There's More to Every Story
More people that is.
We like simple narratives. Clear heroes. Little grey area. We tend to label politicians as good or bad actors, which varies based on what media sources we pay the most attention to.
But life - and policy - are a lot less neat and orderly. And the real stories happen behind the scenes through endless conversations and negotiations that involve the people we don’t often think about. Many of us barely notice them in the policy process, let alone understand what they do. Our “Unelected Representatives.” Staffers.
By the time a bill becomes national news, there have typically been countless rounds of crafting and fine tuning its origin story. In the end, we’re told a mutually agreed upon narrative carried forward in a game of telephone by reporters and the public.
Media reports about legislation often include a folksy, heart-warming approximation of events that may, or may not, have ever taken place.
We read about two congressman who mapped out bipartisan energy legislation over iced tea on a hot summer day.
Or we hear about a few senators who screened a nature documentary that sparked a lively discussion leading to a new environmental bill.
Maybe we see an article describing how lawmakers hashed out their new framework for education policy while out jogging together one afternoon .
Occasionally, such moments of impromptu inspiration really do happen. But most of the time, there’s just so much more involved in the process.
And sure, at the end of the day, the legislators at the center of a story probably did agree upon a proposal. But only after their teams spent weeks or longer negotiating behind the scenes, drafting language, defining priorities, and making deals.
Ultimately, we’re told flattering anecdotes about how the people elected to office came to write the bill or introduce the plan. There’s little or no mention of the army of staffers bustling behind the scenes who actively shaped that policy.
And often, it’s also the same smart and creative team that came up with the memorable, yet not-so-accurate origin story about what inspired the bill in the first place.